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GRECIAN FORMULA

I didn't touch the pizza. I swear. I merely utter the word "sexaholic" during the course of conversation and kerplunk, our gorgeous artichoke-feta-bacon-hearts-of-palm-potato masterpiece is face down on the Mexican-tile floor of Euro Cafe, kersplattered all over. Talk about the power of the spoken word.

Naturally, the devastated pizza and our fallen faces are a source of amusement for the two other parties in this clean, well-lighted cafe. They laugh and point. They offer good-natured commentary.

It is not the first time. My petite dining accomplice and I have already provided chuckles for our fellow diners. We have ordered an ungodly amount of food. An appetizer of gyros potato skins. A fried ravioli salad. The hefty pizza. And the piece de resistance, a sausage calzone close to two feet long. And here we are, two women, neither looking particularly Amazonian.

So much public attention focused on the amount we are to consume mortifies my accomplice. I, on the other hand, am a veteran of such situations. It's the rare meal where I'm not forced to override the concerns of some well-meaning waitperson who wonders if, perhaps, we're not ordering just a wee bit much.

As you can imagine, by now I have a litany of legitimate-sounding excuses for gluttony: "We haven't eaten all day." "I'm sure we'll be taking some of this home with us." "I know we're ordering a lot, but everything sounds so good." "We haven't eaten all week." "We're taking this home to our [fill in the blank]."

Usually this works.
Tonight we tell our pleasant young waitress we have two hungry men to feed at home. "It's girls' night out," I say, with a wink. "I'm sure we'll be wrapping up a lot of this to take home with us." This answer seems to satisfy her. She has done her job. She has warned us. And we have told her why we are ignoring her advice. Because, you see, the portions are large at Euro Cafe. Very large. Chef Romeo Taus, formerly of Golden Cuisine of Southern Europe, is a student of the Nick Ligidakis school of abundant portions. Like Ligidakis, he prepares everything to order. And, on the back of Euro Cafe's menu, Taus thanks Ligidakis for sharing recipes, and acknowledges that all dressings, breads, sauces and desserts are supplied by Golden Cuisine. But Taus surpasses the cookery of his mentor in that we do not suffer the wait one must always expect at Golden Cuisine. Taus has wisely limited his Mesa cafe menu to appetizers, sandwiches, salads, calzones and pizzas.

And the food that emerges from Taus' kitchen is better looking and better tasting than recent fare I've sampled at Ligidakis' Tower Plaza mothership. Taus' fried ravioli salad, for instance, is a savory mixture of sliced salami, hearts of palm, black olives, tender sugar peas, slivers of Bermuda onion, tomato, and green pepper served with tasty triangles of pita bread. The vegetables are crisp and cut with precision. The salad itself is arranged with an eye for aesthetics.

As is the restaurant itself. White walls decorated with framed prints of Miro, Kandinski, Chagall, Picasso, and Monet set the modern Euro-tone of the small restaurant. A glass case full of tempting desserts, acrylic containers of coffee beans and bottles of colored flavorings for European soda coolers all contribute to the impression that this is more than a casual lunch spot. I genuinely like its look, which could almost make me forget I'm sitting in the corner of a shopping plaza in Mesa, Arizona.

One thing is certain. Once acquainted, food-lovers will not be able to stay away from Euro Cafe. I love everything I taste here: the substantial gyros potato skins with feta and artichoke hearts topped with melted kefalograviera cheese; the aforementioned fried ravioli salad tossed with mustard vinaigrette dressing; the gigantic calzone, oozing with a mixture of cheese, sausage, mushrooms and tomato sauce; and even the airborne "Nick's Favorite" pizza.

No sooner does it hit the deck than two waitresses scurry over. A careful examination of the metal rack that held the pizza reveals that it is slanted at a dangerous angle. Aha! The pizza didn't jump after all. It merely slipped.

"Would you like another pizza?" our waitress asks. "Romeo would be happy to make you another."

"Well," I consider. "It was really good."
"And the men at home," my accomplice interjects, "are very hungry."
Our waitress grows insistent. "We'll make you another. You can take it with you. Or you could come back another time for pizza."

"Could we take it with us?"
"Of course."
And so my petite accomplice and I leave the restaurant loaded down with bags of food wrapped in foil and boxed. We are the last diners in the restaurant. There is no end to the apologies. I find that sweet. "I'm sorry they didn't tell you how big the food was," Romeo Taus calls from the kitchen.

"Oh, they did," I call back. "And we're not sorry in the least."
In Greek mythology, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, springs from Zeus' head fully grown. Euro Cafe is barely six weeks old, but you'd never know it. You get the analogy.

The books on the shelf at Main Street Cafe are eclectic: Fit for Life; Mr. Boston's Deluxe Official Bartender Book; Great Sex; The Republic of Plato; Benjamin Franklin; The Dude.

The menu at this nine-table strip-mall restaurant on 19th Avenue also draws from many sources. It is an amalgamation of influences resulting in such offerings as stir-fry, fettucine Alfredo, jambalaya, tabbouleh, taco salad and burgers. A sign posted in the window says, "Health-Conscious Restaurant." Another declares, "Wednesday is Tofu Day." What's so healthful about a BLT or an Italian sub or a burger? Nothing that I can think of--except perhaps that they don't come with fries.

("You want fries? You can get fries at McDonald's," we hear our waitress scold a young male patron. "This is a healthy restaurant.")

In fact, my first impression of Main Street Cafe is tempered by the smell of something burning. Interestingly, the smell's impact on my olfactory senses doesn't lessen over time. I am aware of it during my entire stay in the restaurant.

Not that this keeps anyone away. The cafe is filled to capacity with customers ranging from women in business clothes to construction workers and retirees. On busy days like this, the competition for certain food items can grow fierce.

I do not realize, for instance, when I request a Greek salad that I am ordering the last one. However, our waitress manages to remind me of this fact several times before my dining accomplice and I leave.

The young woman at the next table would also like a Greek salad. But "all the romaine lettuce has been used," she's told, loud enough for me to overhear, "in her salad."

This becomes an uncomfortable running joke. "How's her salad?" our waitress teases, when she stops by to check up on us. Ha ha. I begin to feel like I should apologize for snagging the last one. But I don't. I eat my salad of feta, cucumbers and romaine flavored with mint, garlic, lemon and capers as quietly as possible. My neighbor, it seems, had her heart set on this piquant combo; I don't want to upset her.

Thankfully, my accomplice's order of jambalaya is uncontested. It is also tasty, a mouth-watering melange of good whole-grain rice, bell pepper and grilled chicken pieces, flavored with tomato, garlic, onion and oregano. The cucumber-yogurt sauce which comes with it adds a startling Mediterranean dimension to this dish from down on the bayou.

But while the food here is adequate, it is not spectacular. And the funky service in this two-person operation leaves something to be desired. (On a previous visit, I am waited on by a bare-midriffed young woman who sings along with the radio. Loudly.) Yes, despite its Normaltown, USA, name, Main Street Cafe is a weird little place. As for being health-conscious: Would this claim have anything to do with the fact that its next-door neighbor is a popular health-food store?

Hmmmmmm, I wonder.

Euro Cafe, 1111 South Longmore #3, Mesa, 962-4224. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; noon to 8 p.m., Sunday.

Main Street Cafe, 4426 North 19th Avenue, Phoenix, 265-5992. Hours: Lunch, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday; Dinner, 6 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

for euro cafe

One thing is certain. Once acquainted, food-lovers will not be able to stay away from Euro Cafe. I love everything I taste here.

My accomplice and I leave the restaurant loaded down with bags of food wrapped in foil and boxed.

for main street cafe

I am waited on by a bare-midriffed young woman who sings along with the radio. Loudly.

"All the romaine lettuce has been used," she's told, loud enough for me to overhear, "in her salad.


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